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21st November 2013

10:09pm: flabbergasted
I'm sheerly astounded at the actions of Senate Democrats in getting rid of the filibuster now, of all times, with a mere twelve months left until 2014's elections, when far more Democratic seats are up for grabs than Republican ones.   With Nate Silver having said even before the Obamacare rollout debacle

Our best guess, after assigning probabilities of the likelihood of a G.O.P. pickup in each state, is that Republicans will end up with somewhere between 50 and 51 Senate seats after 2014

and with historical evidence strongly against any party holding the Presidency for more than eight years...

...did we just watch the Democrats blow themselves up?

ETA: actually, they just ended the filibuster for judicial nominees.  Still, this doesn't seem too bright.  If the Republicans should take the Senate, they'll now have cover when they end the filibuster for legislation too, since the Democrats did it first.

3rd November 2013

2:49pm: illiterate New Jersey teacher
A New Jersey teacher who confronted Governor Chris Christie about his remarks about bad teachers and was yelled at by him, has apparently written an open letter to him and posted it on the Net.

"Yesterday I took the opportunity to come hear you speak on your campaign trail. I have never really heard you speak before except for sound bytes that I get on my computer."

The phrase is "sound bites", not "sound bytes".

"Too me, there is never enough money that is spent on education."

"To" me.  Also, "that is", as used here, is bad English composition.

"How will that help them see the value in their own self-worth"

Question mark at the end, not a period.

"Are you aware that poverty is the biggest determination of a child's educational success"

That's "determiner". Also, QUESTION MARK!

"If not, I suggest you read Diane Ravitch's new book Reign of Error."

Put the book title in quotation marks or italics, and then go look up "Correlation versus causation".

"You are simply putting a temporary band-aid into place."

As opposed to all those permanent Band-Aids? Redundant.

"Unfortunately that temporary fix is already starting to be exposed as Charter Schools are showing that they actually are not able to do better than public schools."

"Charter schools" doesn't begin the sentence and isn't part of a title or proper name, and therefore doesn't get capitalized.

"I invite you to come do my job for one week Governor Christie."

Put a comma after "week".

"Has there been back-room meetings as you agree to divert public funds to private companies that are seeking to take over our public educational system? This is my theory."


"You have portrayed us as greedy, lazy money-draining public servants that do nothing."

Whereas, if this woman is representative, what they are is illiterate and incompetent.

Christie could hardly have asked for a better illustration of his point.
Current Mood: annoyed

31st October 2013

10:23pm: The Rich Man
The rich man has his motor-car,
His country and his town estate.
He smokes a fifty-cent cigar
And jeers at Fate.

He frivols through the livelong day,
He knows not Poverty, her pinch.
His lot seems light, his heart seems gay;
He has a cinch.

Yet though my lamp burns low and dim,
Though I must slave for livelihood—
Think you that I would change with him?
You bet I would!

-- Franklin P. Adams (1881-1960)
Current Mood: content

1st October 2013

11:18am: 'maters
I made some cinderblock garden beds last year, and this year planted tomatoes in one of them, which happened to be the one next to the fence. This was the result:

The damn things are taller than I am! Being new at this I got them into the ground rather late, so they're only putting forth ripe tomatoes now, but the plants have exploded with them.

The other day I picked almost two dozen ripe and almost-ripe tomatoes, and there are probably that many more still on the plants. Maggie's thinking of making sauce. Two things I learned from this year's crop: something to climb up is vital (they soon outstripped the cages I placed) and they ripen from underneath. That is, the ones underneath ripen before the surface ones, so have a way to check them and pick them underneath.

Credit should be given to the author of The Vegetable Gardener's Bible; Ed Smith's W.O.R.D. system (Wide beds, Organic methods, Raised beds, and Deep beds) sure worked for us.

30th September 2013

10:02pm: shutdown
Looks like the shutdown's going to occur. This'll be interesting.

I've just been watching Lincoln, and have been reminded how vicious American politics has been during most of our existence. In 1798 Congressmen Matthew Lyon and Roger Griswold got into a fight with walking stick and fireplace tongs on the floor of Congress, and Preston Brooks came up to Charles Sumner on the floor of Congress in 1856 and beat him senseless with a walking stick-- to an incredible wave of congratulation and support (and free canes) from his constituents. In 1954 a group of Puerto Rican nationalists shot up the House of Representatives, which was debating an immigration bill. Between the Dixiecrats, now all gone, and the World War Two generation, now mostly gone, we had a very civil run for the past seventy years or so. But I guess that was more an historical accident than anything else. And TV and radio united America considerably back then; where will things go now that the internet has allowed intellectual Balkanization and news outlets are more like Jacksonian newspapers?

Conventional wisdom suggests this is a mistake by the Republicans, since much of the public blames them. Could be. I wish I could say I knew, though. I can't help thinking of Bill Maher's backhanded admiration for the way they actually lead, though I'm sure he thinks where they're leading is Hell. (If, that is, he believed in Hell.) I'm sure this will be a millstone for their next presidential candidate, but I don't know that they're going to suffer much electorally otherwise; any electoral suffering that was likely to occur to them probably already has. John C. Calhoun once said something to the effect that even losing arguments that are made for a long time can't have no effect. Between this and Roberts's upholding of Obamacare by destroying the universality of the Commerce Clause, I have a strong sense of history being made.

I wish I could see where it's going, though.

26th September 2013

10:33am: Splurged
I don't buy that many antiques any more-- a consequence of clutter is that you realize how bad many such decisions are-- but when this came up for only $6,000 (very cheap for what it is, and it'll be very useful and fun), I could not resist:

Back in 1936, a desperate Pierce-Arrow Motor Company decided to try to take advantage of the fast-growing travel trailer business to save the company, and began producing the Travelodge in their almost-empty plant in Buffalo, New York. The interiors were beautifully made (quality was a habit with Pierce-Arrow), with gumwood paneling, a tiled bathroom with a beveled-glass mirror, china cabinet doors with leaded-glass windows and a woodburning stove. The trailers, however, were priced competitively with middle-class trailers. Only a few hundred were made, sales volume was not what they had hoped for, and the company folded.

It doesn't have the wind generator on it any more (they knocked a thousand dollars off the price, and no way was it worth that to me) but I think it's incredibly cool. And one of only a few dozen survivors-- you know I love rare stuff.
10:16am: blogging question
I've been reading Megan McArdle's blog, and she said at one point that the way to have a successful blog is to post often. Is that true, do you think?

Of course, I have probably been posting so rarely that no one reads this any more, and won't see that question to answer it, which is a nice point of irony.
Current Mood: coffeed up

16th April 2013

7:02pm: Margaret Thatcher
I've seen people on my FL repost something that starts out, "if Baroness Thatcher is given a state funeral, I will leave the country for the day, because what her policies did, what her belief did, what her legacy did, is doing to this day are things that are anathema to me."

Thinking like that is, in turn, so alien to me I'm not sure I have anything to say to them in response. To everyone else I'd say this. What she did was to save the U.K. from the grotesque excesses of the Left. The excesses of the Right are awful, too, but I live in a city and hang out mainly with Democrats, and never have seen one that I believe would admit that their excesses are just as bad and can't be made up for by noble intentions. Margaret Thatcher saved the country from a brand of thinking that insists that government can save people from the consequences of what's in their heads, that government can micromanage human relationships and set prices, that emotions are far more important than numbers, that egalitarianism is far more important than freedom, and that denies (except for corporations-- and I agree that it happens with corporations too) that government guarantees lead sooner or later to corruption, codependency and stagnation. That denies, in short, that there are hard limits to what government can do for the poor without poisoning itself or them.

(And, frankly, it's also a kind of thinking for whom it's an impermissible idea that "a religion that avoids the First Amendment by lacking an anthropomorphized deity or formal incorporation" is an excellent description of the Left, meaning that the conflict between it and the Religious Right ought to be intensely ironic to those who are members of neither group. But that's nothing to do with Thatcher.)

Truthfully, I think that both the Right and the Left desperately wish to believe that reality can be legislated into being simple enough to fit into a folk song-- Kumbaya or The Ballad of Davy Crockett, depending on your politico-philosophical preference. Evidence for this could easily begin and end with the quote above and the unquoted statist jeremiad that follows it.

Here's to you, Mrs. Thatcher. If I could honor you by attending your state funeral, I would.
Current Mood: proud
6:26pm: Quotidian quotation: moral hazard
"I am for doing good to the poor, but I differ in opinion of the means. I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. In my youth I travelled much, and I observed in different countries, that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer."

-- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), On the Price of Corn and Management of the Poor, 1766

28th January 2013

11:25am: Quotidian quotation: gentrification
"It is goodness that gives to a neighborhood its beauty. One who is free to choose, yet does not prefer to dwell among the Good-- how can he be accorded the name of wise?"

-- Confucius (551 B.C. - 479 B.C.)

7th January 2013

10:04am: Quotidian quotation: healing
"The best doctors in the world are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merriman."

-- Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

19th December 2012

5:24pm: Quotidian quotation: success
"The theory seems to be that as long as a man is a failure he is one of God's children, but that as soon as he succeeds he is taken over by the Devil."

-- H.L. Mencken (1880-1956)

19th November 2012

8:46pm: Too Big to Fail, 1873 style
I recently picked up an 1888 copy of Walter Bagehot's classic Lombard Street: a Description of the Money Market. It's excellent. Bagehot was the second editor of The Economist, and it's both interesting and impressive that its clarity of writing and thinking dates back at least to him. The book first came out in 1873. This passage strikes me as particularly relevant to our times:

Since 1797, the public have always expected the Government to help the Bank [of England] if necessary. I cannot fully discuss the suspensions of the [restrictions on the Bank's powers to print money in the] Act of 1844 in [the financial crises of] 1847, 1857 and 1866; but indisputably one of their effects is to make people think that Government will always help the Bank if the Bank is in extremity. And this is the sort of anticipation which tends to justify itself, and to cause what it expects.

The effect of government regulation in changing people's behavior in such a way as to make the justification for the regulation irrelevant is nothing new, I see.
7:49pm: life in old age
I really like the old people in this post at Get Rich Slowly. Now that's the way to live when you're old.

17th November 2012

11:46am: cool map

This map is U.S. states renamed for countries with similar GDPs, from this post by Strange Maps.

7th November 2012

9:06am: Election reaction
My reaction to the election results is not so much surprise, since this was the pretty likely result, and not so much joy or horror, since I supported Gary Johnson who I knew wasn't going to win anyway. My reaction is relief that the whole thing is over and I can plug my landline back in (it's a layer of defense against telemarketers, there so we don't have to put down our cellphone numbers) and irritation at the age-old reminder that no matter who wins and who loses in any given race, they'll put the most self-serving interpretation on it and won't learn a thing.

5th November 2012

11:29am: The truth about American politics
Will Wilkinson just wrote one of the best blog posts on American politics (and maybe politics in any Western democracy) that I've ever read.

The GOP is not, in fact, committed to replacing "a free-market system balanced with government regulations, tax-funded social programs and legislative and judicial guarantees of civil rights" with "one that seriously reduces the role of government". It would be better to say that the Republican Party is committed to a handful of mostly empty rhetorical tropes about reducing the role of government, much as the Democratic Party is committed to a handful of mostly empty rhetorical tropes about greater socio-economic equality.


It's an occupational hazard of philosophy to see significant philosophical differences behind partisan rivalries. Luckily, America's two mainstream political parties are not actually very ideological. They continue to exist as competitive parties because they are doggedly devoted to the service of their constitutive jumble of interest groups.

are two of the best bits, in my opinion.

He concludes:

The branding function of philosophy in politics is to give individual conscience a form congruent with group interest, to transform the mathematical necessities of coalitional partisan politics into many millions of separate acts of self-congratulating private virtue. It's a neat trick. It would be neater still if fewer pundits played along.
Current Mood: intellectually stimulated

28th October 2012

10:51pm: Sandy
This is the forecast for my zip code for tomorrow night:

"Rain. The rain could be heavy at times. Low around 48. Very windy, with a northeast wind 44 to 46 mph, with gusts as high as 65 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100%. New precipitation amounts between 2 and 3 inches possible."

Gusts as high as 65! Chance of precipitation is 100%! Whooo! I think we're set. No travel planned. Work and school are cancelled. Groceries topped up. Candles, batteries, emergency radios, bottled water, check. Wood for fires, check. Bottles of wine, check. Porch for sitting on, check.

Let this also serve as the spark of today's Quotidian Quotation:

"Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! rage! blow!
You cataracts and hurricanoes, spout
Till you have drench’d our steeples, drown’d the cocks! 5
You sulphurous and thought-executing fires,
Vaunt-couriers to oak-cleaving thunderbolts,
Singe my white head! And thou, all-shaking thunder,
Strike flat the thick rotundity o’ the world!"

-- William Shakespeare, King Lear, Act III, Scene II
Current Mood: anticipatory

16th October 2012

1:47pm: Public Stuff
I just want to take a minute to rave about a new (?) web idea called Public Stuff. Philadelphia, where as you know I live, has it via their new 311 interface between the city and the inhabitants. I spotted it and just thought I'd try it out, thinking, it certainly couldn't make things worse than Philadelphia's past performance.

So far, it's excellent! I've been a violation-reporting maniac-- and believe me, there's a lot that requires fixing in Philadelphia. Sewer odor, graffiti, illegal dumping, unsafe sidewalks, a derelict house that needs demolishing-- everything has been responded to promptly, notifying me by email at every step. A work crew was sent out for the sewer odor. The detached side cover of a fire hydrant was reattached. The other stuff apparently takes a little longer-- inspecting the sidewalks and sending a citation to the owner (frequently an out-of-state landlord around here)-- but I bet it's happening. When they were unable to find the address in question, they either closed the report and told me to resubmit it with the correct address, or they commented on the service request asking for more detail, and either way I was emailed promptly.

It's also an app. And photos can be submitted. Finally, an easy way to make civic involvement public and responsive!
Current Mood: optimistic

8th October 2012

12:32pm: Quotidian quotation: leisure
"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer, since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment. Go some distance away, because then the work appears smaller, and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and lack of harmony and proportion is more readily seen."

-- Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

7th October 2012

2:56pm: stick shifts
Dad has always driven stick shifts, as a point of control, and taught me on one, and I admit I prefer them, too. To my irritation, fewer and fewer of them are being made. I just learned, though, of at least one saving grace of that fact. While reading Lexington's latest blog post at The Economist, I encountered this passage:

I had expected the very largest trucks to have manual gearboxes, and was a bit disappointed when they too had automatic transmissions. Driving an automatic always feels a bit like steering a bumper car to me, though I can see the point of them in traffic jams. A veteran industry executive informed me that I was showing my age. To anyone under 35 or so, he said, a gear stick is essentially an anti-theft device, rather than a viable element of controlling a motor vehicle.

Well, I guess that's something. And most crimes are committed by younger people, so if they're mostly incapable of driving a stick shift I won't worry about anyone stealing my car.

(My wife's car, on the other hand...)
2:55pm: Quotidian quotation: trading
"As for the chopping of bargains, when a man buys not to hold but to sell over again, that commonly grindeth double, both upon the seller and upon the buyer."

-- Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

5th October 2012

12:36pm: Quotidian quotation: money
"With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too."

-- Yiddish proverb
Current Mood: amused

4th October 2012

12:31pm: Quotidian quotation: life
"The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary on it."

-- Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860)
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